When you walk into SAX it is almost like you are walking into a nightclub. The first thing you encounter is a front desk staffed with hostesses. They lead you through a door into the restaurant and you are instantly hit by the sheer opulence of the place. Red velvet curtains line the walls and grandiose chandeliers hang from the tiled ceiling. I wondered if it felt similar to someone walking into the Moulin Rouge for the first time at the turn of 20th century. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. It was like walking into to another place and time.
There are a couple of fondues on the menu, which serves small plates. We tried the Blue Crab & Gruyere Fondue. My Editor found it reminiscent of the local Chesapeake favorite, blue crab dip, but with a clever upscale twist. Big chunks of lump crab meat float in a rich and decadent pot of warm melted cheese that has been dressed up with sherry. It is served with an assortment of bread for dipping: pumpernickel, sourdough and a sweet raisin walnut. The bread is tossed in Old Bay seasoning. It was rich and salty, with a hint of parmesan cheese.
The American Wagyu Beef Tartar was next up. Tomato, basil and pine nuts were incorporated into the tartar. The term Wagyu refers to a few breeds of Japanese cattle that are known for high quality of meat and heavy marbling. In America, Wagyu cattle have been bred with Angus cattle. The tartar was subtle and refreshing. The tomato added a little acid to balance out the dish.
The first burlesque show of the evening started at about the time our tartar reached the table. It was based on “Big Spender” from the musical “Chicago”. The burlesque shows at SAX, in a word, are riveting. I could barely turn away. They are spaced roughly 20 minutes apart and last for 5 minutes or so. The shows are kind of like a miniature, sexy Cirque du Soleil act. Scantily clad women and men in masquerade perform stunning acrobatics and dance moves in a graceful and tasteful way while a DJ spins music. The music was sort of a ragtime meets techno. The acts take place in a glass room over the bar that dominates the venue. Every seat offered a great view of the shows.
Getting back to the food, my favorite dish that night was the Prawns “Espelette”. These plump, tender prawns were dressed with sweet curry and savory carrot ginger butter. They were then sprinkled with dried “Espelette” peppers from the Basque country. Micro cilantro and fennel gave a nice herbaciousness to the dish. They were absolutely delicious!
The Fried Oyster Sliders were quite good. The crispy oysters were served on miniature brioche buns with a thick slathering of chipotle aioli. Almost like a bite-sized po’ boy. They ar eon the small side though, so you might need to have two orders to get your oyster fix.
Two of the cocktails were quite remarkable. The Scandalous was an edgy version of the Screwdriver. The base liquor was vodka. Instead of orange juice they used fresh squeezed tangerine juice with a touch of lemon. They kicked it up by adding ginger and habanero. It was tangy with a little spice to it. The Shaky Alibi, made with Reposado tequila, lavender, agave nectar, lime juice and egg whites was full of flavor and well balanced. The craftsmanship and attention to detail really comes through in the drinks.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the service. It is not something I normally write about in my reviews, but in this case it was so exceptional that it needs a mention. Stunningly beautiful waitresses wearing corsets and bustieres waited on us that night. They were gracious and very knowledgeable about the food, the drinks and the burlesque shows. It really added to the overall experience.
SAX offers a tantalizing feast for the eyes as well as the palate. There is nothing else like it in DC. If you are looking for a new experience, I would strongly recommend giving them a try. I would say it is a perfect spot for a second a third date when things start to heat up a little.